How to Write a First Line that will Hook Your Reader

Happy New Year, voyagers! I figured that the first post of 2023 needed to be special, and what better way to start a new year than by talking about first lines? I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for an embarrassingly long time, so it was time to dust it off, polish it up, and get it out into the world.

For me, a first line can make or break a book. If the first line sucks, I don’t have any urge to keep reading. But, conversely, a good first line can not only intrigue your reader, but keep your book in their hands. As a result, making sure that you have a strong, intriguing, and epic first line is absolutely crucial.

In this post, we’re going to discuss three types of opening lines that will pique your reader’s curiosity and hook them instantly. I am also going to share several examples because I think those are a much better teacher than I am, lol.

The opening line that jumps straight into the action

A great way to immediately catch your reader’s attention is by throwing them right into the story. Personally, I really like these kind of opening lines because it means I have to figure out what is going on without a lot of extra details. Maybe the protagonist is being chased or maybe they just learned that their best friend died? Whatever the case, this is a good way to open your story.

This type of opening line works well for a multitude of genres. As long as you open your scene with the action (even if it’s not a high-adrenaline kind of action), this should work well because it allows the reader to immediately slip into the protagonist’s situation. We’re intrigued enough to keep reading, and once the immediate scene is over, you can slow down and give us some more information about their life, their world, and the bigger plot.

Below, I’ve given examples from a variety of genres, including a contemporary romance, a few fantasies, and a dystopian.

“The black pickup truck flies through the red light, heading straight for us.”
100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

“My sister is in trouble, and I only have minutes to help her.”
Soundless by Richelle Mead

“Will ran. He ran and ran.”
The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

“Fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds. That’s how long I have to live.”
Anomaly by Krista McGee

The opening line that establishes the mood and/or feel of the story

These opening lines don’t necessarily include a lot of action. Instead, they focus on immediately immersing you in the world, emotions, aesthetic, mood, and writing style of the book. This is probably my least favorite way to open a story, but it is incredibly effective for many books. If you can capture the essence of your story in the opening line, there’s a good chance that at least a certain audience will latch on and keep reading.

This opening line can work for a variety of genres. I’ve given examples below from a dystopian, a historical fantasy, a contemporary romance, and even one of my own stories, which is a dystopian fantasy. So, this type of opening is very flexible because it’s all about establishing the feel of the story and what readers can expect from the very start.

“He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.”
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

“In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.”
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“Blood pooled on the ground, and I stepped back to keep it from touching my newly polished boots.”
Fantasy WIP by Bree Dawn

The opening line that makes you ask questions

These opening lines are the ones that make you automatically ask questions. It doesn’t matter what the question is, it just needs to make you ask something. This is my personal favorite because I love being thrown into a novel where nothing is explained right away and you’re just kind of expected to catch up. These lines also tend to be a random statement that usually doesn’t have any context until later in the story, which makes it a nice bit of foreshadowing.

This type of opening line can also work for pretty much any genre, although I feel like I see it the most in dystopian novels. Here, I’ve opted for a few lines that are from a dystopian, a paranormal contemporary, a classic, and another dystopian because it amused me.

“There is one mirror in my house.”
Divergent by Veronica Roth

“I felt her fear before I heard her screams.”
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
1984 by George Orwell

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Feed by M.T. Anderson

No matter how you decide to start your story, the important thing is to make sure you catch your reader’s attention, which is like half the battle. Then, you have to make sure you keep their attention because if you have an intriguing first line but don’t follow it up with an intriguing first chapter…well, that’s a sad waste of a great first line.

Let’s Talk!

What are some of your favorite opening lines? Do you have a preference out of these three types I see a lot? Is there a fourth type that I’m missing? Let’s talk all things first lines in the comments!

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Bree Dawn is a voracious book dragon who believes in the power of stories. As a young girl, she always begged her parents to let her read “one more chapter” before bedtime. As an adult, she uses this same passion to craft dark stories with hopeful undertones for young adults who seek a glimmer of light in this dark world. Bree is currently working on her dystopian fantasy novel while consuming as many stories as possible.

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